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American Thinker
American Thinker
6 Jan 2024
Mike McDaniel


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America’s police are much in the news, and its seldom good news. Part of the problem is few of the public know much about them, who they are, what they think and the limitations we impose on them. To partially rectify that knowledge deficit, a brief police primer:

To become a police officer, one must be at least 21, have no significant criminal record, be in good health and good shape, have at least a high school diploma or GED and be of average intelligence. “Average intelligence” because most police administrators don’t want to hire smarter people. They’re afraid they’ll get bored and quit, and the money spent training them will be lost. Sadly, these days, particularly in blue states, hiring standards are being seriously dumbed down.

Having been defunded and persecuted, capable officers are fleeing for red state agencies, retiring, or getting out of the profession. Recruiting is a nightmare, and agencies are taking people with drunk driving convictions, histories of drug use, and significant criminal histories, including some felonies, just to put bodies in blue suits. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how diversity hiring mandates make a bad situation worse, but let’s play along and see how things should work.

The usual hiring process begins with an application, followed by an intensive background check, which usually must be finished before a job offer is made. A basic human knowledge/skills test is the next step. This is not a Mensa-level exam, but a basic inventory of all-too-uncommon common sense and basic reasoning skills. Many applicants fail at this point.  

During my police days, I was amazed at the lack of quality of applicants, and that was long before “defund the police” lunacy. I saw people with so many piercings they could set off airport metal detectors from the parking lot. Many applying for a job requiring personal integrity seemed to have no idea of personal hygiene, and a few actually tried to borrow money from me, a stranger and police supervisor!

Image: Police Academy Training. Wikimedia Commons.org. Public domain.

Those passing the basic test take a physical fitness test. Again, one need not be an Olympic athlete to pass. Situps, pushups, a 1.5 mile run one can pass at little more than a walking pace, some flexibility exercises, simple stuff, yet many more fail, and some have cardiac events which, if they survive, end up saving their lives. These days, more corpulent candidates have a higher chance of passing. Those passing usually need a medical exam to eliminate chronic, or undetected cardiac, conditions. Some fail at that level.

Remaining candidates often take a psychological exam, such as the Minnesota Multi-Phasic Inventory (MMPI). It helps weed out the disturbed, and some fail there.

What’s left are interviewed by a panel of officers of various ranks. Police officers are public figures. They have to be able to deal with every strata of society. If they can’t intelligently answer questions from their peers, they’re out.

Some agencies then require an interview with a psychologist. Most require a polygraph. Finally, there may be an interview with the police chief or sheriff. In smaller agencies, some of these steps may be compressed or eliminated, and all interviews are done by the chief or sheriff.

If hired, a rookie will normally first attend a state-mandated academy. Some states have no academies and require all applicants complete a private, state-recognize academy before they apply. Essentially, the private firm does most of the vetting for them.

After that, every agency has some form of field training program where rookies ride with a series of Field Training Officers (FTOs) who teach them every aspect of the job, agency policies and procedures, and write daily evaluations. Agencies want them to succeed—they’re spending a lot of money to train them—but some will inevitably fail at this level.

It normally takes about a year from their date of hire before rookies are thought sufficiently capable to operate a patrol car on their own, a year during which they’re producing no real police services, and their FTOs do little but train them. The primary difference between police officers and sheriff’s deputies is deputies normally begin their career in the jail and earn their way to patrol duties.

Most people want to become police officers because they want to serve. Most are looking for adventure, excitement, and they want to be worthy of respect. Some want the job for baser reasons such as power over others. They want to demand, not earn, respect. The entire first year is designed to weed them out as early as possible.

It’s only after they begin that first patrol day alone that they really begin to learn about police work, and the public they serve begins to learn about them.

Mike McDaniel is a USAF veteran, classically trained musician, Japanese and European fencer, life-long athlete, firearm instructor, retired police officer and high school and college English teacher. His home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.